Friday, 21 December 2007

Dreaming of a Red Christmas! Seasons Greetings from Cardiff RESPECT

Another year gone. Good friends we've lost.
As we march out of 2007 and onwards into a new year, let's hope that 2008 will be a red hot year of protest and action to save the planet, reverse neoliberalism and build a better world.
Across the universe, empire is facing cataclysmic defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when a rat's in a corner it doesn't just give up the fight and die but rather becomes more nasty and vicious, so expect to see an escalation of racism against asylum seekers and the demonisation of muslims, and the stepping up of agression towards Iran.
One sign of hope is on the continent of Latin America where rejection of neoliberalism is profound, we extend our fraternal greetings to our comrades across the world aiming to build "socialism in the 21st Century".
In this season of nativity plays our hearts are in Bethlehem where our brothers and sisters will spend Xmas under the heel of occupation.
Throughout this year Cardiff RESPECT has been active in the struggle on jobs, against Trident and war, trying to build a movement to save the planet, and in the frontline in the battle to resist and thwart the globalisers and their henchmen in Downing Street, Cardiff Bay and Washington.

If you are against war, racism, privatisation and the destruction of the environment and want to spend 2007 helping to build a socialist alternative to the 4 capitalist parties in Wales - New Labour, Plaid, LibDems and the Tories - email:

"In a dark time, the eyes begin to see"

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Building a Broad Anti-Capitalist Party in France

He seems to be everywhere. Olivier Besancenot has a prominence in the political arena that now goes beyond his wildest dreams. RESPECT has fraternal links with his party the LCR who are now attempting to build a broad party in France to link those against war, racism, privatisation and the destruction of the environment

This is a far cry from the time when Alain Krivine presented his young protegé, the future presidential candidate, to the press, saying: “Isn’t he nice?” Six years later, this chubby little Tintin face is now ubiquitous on the left, on the TV screen with Canal+ or i-Télé, on the radio waves, and in the columns of Le Parisien … He even takes pride of place in a double page spread in Paris Match, sitting on a stool in an 18th District [Clichy/Montmartre] bistro, posing beneath a photo-portrait of Che Guevara. And the ultimate tribute: a team from “Groland”, a satirical programme with a big youth following, turned out for his last meeting in Paris on 22 November at the Mutualité hall.

The popularity polls, which place him just behind Ségolène Royal and Bertrand Delanoë [Parti socialiste, Mayor of Paris], have become accustomed to this rapid media breakthrough. First it was the BVA poll, which gave the young postworker a 40%-favourable rating, just behind the Mayor of Paris, then the Ipsos poll, and lastly the Sofres poll. Olivier Besancenot, 33 years old, now competes with major figures in the Parti socialiste [PS] for prime position on the Left. That would seem to show that his party, the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR), is right to claim that it has become “the sole beacon of socialism in the midst of a Left that has collapsed”.

At his meetings, his mentors, Alain Krivine and François Sabado, who not so very long ago had him repeat their scripts, are now placed on the second rank, as onlookers delighted at their success story. “He’s very good”, they keep repeating, when the young leader thrills his audience by insisting that he wants them to be “the Left that sticks to its guns”, set against the PS, which is “nowhere” and which will have to “relearn the habit of carrying placards on demos”. Even those who have only ever seen the “League” at the political margins can now take delight in this

After thirty years of standing Krivine as their candidate, these older members decided they’d have to take a gamble on recognising the “generation gap” if they wanted to be able to compete with the popularity of “Arlette” (Laguillier) [the candidate of Lutte Ouvrière]. The results they obtained in 2002 (4.27% of the vote) and especially the 4.08% of the vote in the Presidential Election of May 2007 (twice the vote of Laguiller or of Buffet, the Communist Party candidate), have outstripped all their predictions and have decisively placed Besancenot at the head of the radical Left.

Over the past month, they seem to have moved on a further stage and established themselves in direct competition with a PS that has become too pragmatic and which no longer knows how to put clear water between itself and the Right. “The PS doesn’t represent any alternative, and has left a vacuum which Besancenot now fills”, says Vincent Tiberj, Research Fellow at Cevipof, the Political Research Centre of Sciences Po [a political-science university institute in Paris]. This phenomenon has become more marked in the wake of the Presidential Election. An IFOP opinion poll commissioned by Le Journal du dimanche, and published on 2 November, shows that 7% of those interviewed would vote today for Besancenot. The surge in support is particularly strong among among manual workers (12%) and clerical workers (11%). “The PS seems to lack any line or leader that it can put up against Sarkozy. On the Left, only the postie [i.e. Besancenot] remains as the opposition”, according to the analysis of Jérôme Fourquet, director of IFOP.

Besancenot remains a militant and, since the end of the summer holiday period, he has been trying to stick as closely as possible to the course taken by working class struggle. He is everywhere, among the homeless on the rue de la Banque, at a demonstration supporting “users of the Postal Service”, at Colombes for a press conference against the EPR nuclear power station. When he has his say in the television studios, he always mentions an example of “workers in struggle” with whom he has met just beforehand. Playtex, Yoplait, Nestlé, Citroën or Well … He conveys the anger of workers and the demands of those who have been pushed to their limit.

A strike breaks out in the SNCF? He is the first to come out in public to offer his support to the railway workers, rushing down the day before the strike began to the depot at Sotteville-lès-Rouen to ask “the guys to stand firm”. The railway workers received him like one of their own. Alongside the marches during the big demonstrations in Paris, he was given cheers: “Hold out, Olivier! You’re not alone.” In the union offices, his interviews were now being pinned up on the notice boards: “He was already popular, but here he was just brilliant”, says his friend from the 18th District, Basile Pot, switchman at the Gare de l’Est. “There is so much confusion in the way the PS expresses itself politically that people can identify with his straight talk”, says Annick Coupé, spokesperson for Solidaires, the union grouping that comprises the various SUD sections [a militant rank-and-file based union movement that has grown over the past 20 years]. “He had the intelligence to see that there was a political space left empty” as Communist Party deputy Patrick Braouezec concedes.

From 2001 onwards, the young leader of the LCR has been able to show that he is different. There is the casual style: the dark jeans and black t-shirt he always wears, his simple and punchy way of speaking with finely honed slogans, and his stance as “just another wage earner like everybody else” which he insists on in contrast to the suits and ties of the notables. He is just as happy to advertise his friendship with the rappers Joey Starr et Monsieur R as he is to advertise his admiration for Che Guevara. “In the political arena, you get the impression that he comes from another planet”, laughs Léon Crémieux, a member of the LCR’s Central Committee.

The style may be out of place on the Left, but the younger generation is happy with it. “By drawing new causes like ecology and anti-globalisation into the arena, he’s been able to build up a base among first-time voters”, as the researcher Vincent Tiberj emphasises. Within the generation born between 1977 and 1982, Besancenot’s vote has reached 12%.

Besancenot continues to work on his “prole” and youthful niche. His public image receives the attention of his whole team. For his interviews, he chooses Le Parisien and free papers like Métro and 20 Minutes. And he prefers to reply to the enquiries of RMC Info, “a radio station of the people”, rather than the large media outlets for more general audiences. “For lots of workers, these are the only sources of information. It’s become our means of political communication”, as Léon Crémieux says by way of justification. Not to forget the radio stations based in the outlying districts, “to reach the young people in the big housing estates”.

Jonathan Walker translated this Le Monde article on Olivier Besancenot. It is republished from International Viewpoint magazine

Simultaneous No Borders Blockades to Prevent Dawn Raids on Asylum Seekers

PRESS RELEASE: 18.12.2007


“No Borders” Activists Prevent “Dawn Raids” on Children Protesters from the No Borders network are currently blockading the bases of Immigration Enforcement Officers in simultaneous actions across the country, stopping them from entering or leaving in vehicles. The protesters are currently blockading immigration reporting centres in Glasgow, Bristol and Portsmouth.

The protesters have been there since early this morning, and they have said that they will stay there until they can ensure that today, families throughout the country will be safe regardless of where they come from.

The protest coincides with the UN International Migrant's Day. In response to the growing number of attacks on family homes by the Borders and Immigration Agency, the No Borders network have taken action to expose and prevent the sinister tactic of “dawn raids” employed against families and young children.

In Bristol, the protesters were in place in time to obstrtuct bemused immigration officials, whose vehicles are now trapped in the car park. A frustrated police officer on the scene was heard to say, “how did you know a dawn raid was happening this morning?”

Dawn raids are used to gain custody of whole families in order to imprison them. Every day, doors are kicked in and families are snatched from their beds and taken to detention centres, where they are punished for seeking refuge in this country. They are taken away from their houses, jobs, schools and communities – their lives. Immigration Enforcement Officers come in the middle of the night as the children and their parents sleep in bed, and have not left to go to school or work. It also ensures no witnesses are present. There are no official statistics as to the number and regularity of these raids because the government will not release the figures. But the fleets of vehicles which have been blockaded this morning and the harrowing personal accounts of families indicate large-scale capacity.

Today No Borders have highlighted just a few of these bases, which are hidden around the country.

Simon Summerhill of the No Borders network said, “we are here to expose what the government is doing – breaking down doors and snatching children from their beds in the middle of the night. Some children go to school, others go to prison. Immigration officers regularly target the vulnerable- families, children and the ill or traumatised, in order to boost their official figures of deportations.”

Asylum seeking children are denied the human rights that all other children have. These rights include the right to go to school, the right to privacy, the right to family life (as established by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989). Under UK laws, children seeking asylum can be sent to jail and are often denied the right to education.

No Borders maintains that a legal system which divides between children that have human rights and those that do not, is institutionally racist. To deny a child the right to education because of their background is racist, just as to deny an adult the right to work because of their background is racist.

Nikki Dickinson of No Borders: “This is institutionalised child abuse. They take kids who have already been traumatised and cause them even more distress. The effects of snatch raids, detention and deportation on children are unmeasurable. The families have often been settled in an area for years, and their removal affects the community around them- family members left behind, friends and teachers at school, neighbours.”

Notes to editors

1.No Borders is a coalition of groups who argue against all immigration controls and that freedom of movement is a basic human right.
2.The Scottish Executive Cabinet has recently announced its total and fundamental opposition to dawn raids - to any kind of forcible removal of children - and to detention of children. They also called for an amnesty, but they were rejected by Westminster.
3.For updates on the blockades, or for an interview with a No Borders activist, call: 07527463767

Cardiff RESPECT believes that workers of different countries have more in common with each other than their rulers. We believe that racism is a tool used by our rulers to divide and rules us. We defend the rights of migrants to live and work in this country free from harrassment.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

End Postcode Lottery for Female Victims of Violence

Each year, 3 million women across the UK experience rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, trafficking or another form of gender-based violence and there are many, many more who have suffered violence in the past. They deserve specialised support services, such as refuges and Rape Crisis Centres, yet Map of Gaps, published by the End Violence Against Women Campaign and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, graphically shows the postcode lottery in these essential services:

- A third of local authorites across the UK have no specialised services at all
- Only one in ten local authorities have services for ethnic minority women
- Most women in the UK don’t have access to a Rape Crisis Centre

Ask Gordon Brown to take urgent action to end the postcode lottery by taking a minute to sign our Downing Street e-petition here:
http://petitions. violenceservices/

Please pass this on to your networks and link the petition to your websites and blogs. To download Map of Gaps visit here

Comrade Stockhausen is Dead!

Lenin once described socialism as workers power and democracy + the electrification of the countryside. Karlheinz Stockhausen was a groundbreaking composer-philosopher of the 20th Century who used electricity to weave some of the most compelling and militant avant-garde sounds of the last 100 years and now the man is dead.

At one time, Stockhausen was named-checked by every Kraftwerk and Bjork listening pseudo-musical intellectual. For me, his electronic collages were the musical counterpart to TS Eliot's "The Wasteland" sketching out a landscape of modern distintergration that surrounded me.

Growing up in a council estate in a small market town meant that visionary and transcendental experience was sought outside of my own limited world of adolescence. Picking up a vox guitar and jacking it into an amplifier I would make weird sounds and try and reach out for something more in life. The screaming howl of feedback mirrored the scream of adolescent rage with a world gone wrong. An idealist I wanted genuine communion with the people and world around me, not experience mediated through some corporate product.

I discovered Stockhausen at around the same time as I hit upon one of his mentors, the brilliant Messaien. Messaien was a maverick French organ player who would construct huge gothic architecture in cathedrals around themes like the fire of Pentacost or the Ressurection of the dead . . . powerful stuff.

Like many young musicians I had my "secret heroes". Stockhausen was someone who taught me to be serious about the gaps in music, he had a concept of "coloured silence" that was incredibly useful. Another pioneer, Arvo Part once said, "that a single note played beautifully could me more important than a symphony" - I went on a quest to find that single note.

Stockhausen advocated a complete rejection of the entire canon of classical music. While such nihilism is ultimately futile and leads to a music that cannot connect to a mass audience it expanded the palate of many a musician and was another arrow in the quiver to use when times got tough.

Stockhausen's reasoning was poignant: He grew up in a world where Beethoven was what SS stormtroopers would listen to for relaxation after closing the oven doors on Jewish families. Classical music became the soundtrack for barbarism.

His father had been an enthusiastic National Socialist who went missing in the brutal war on the Eastern Front. His mother was one of many women forced into an asylum and fell victim to the Nazi's perverted science dying in their euthanasia programme.

Stockhausen described hearing the marching songs of war on the radio-set all through his childhood this scarred him with a lifelong hatred of repetitive, regular rhythms and pushed him out of the black and into the blue.

Whether Stockhausen was a political revolutionary is not important here. The militant socialist composer and one time musical collaborator, Cornelius Cardew, thought not and denounced him. What IS important was that Stockhausen was a musical revolutionary. Like the Kama Sutra his work is more of a manual or textbook than artwork in its own right.

Ultimately, Stockhausen's music was ugly. But as another musical prophet said, "The only beauty's Ugly, man". As a musician I'm still trading on the stamps that Stockhausen gave to me in my youth.

Goodbye, Comrade Stockhausen!

Monday, 10 December 2007

RESPECT builds Trade Union Support for the Anti-War Movement

A group of health workers from South Wales went as an official delegation to the recent International World against War conference hosted by the UK Stop the War Coalition which saw over 1,000 leading activists in the global anti-war movement descend on London to debate the way forward for the movement.

Blackwood RESPECT member and Shop steward Ian Thomas, who helped to organise the group, said,
“Our union branch unanimously backed this event. And by raising the Stop the War in the union, we’ve made the union more relevant.”

Nursing assistant Davide said,
“It’s important to get everyone together to hear different opinions and experiences”.

Selena, who is international officer for the Cardiff Unison union, agreed, “Last year we sent two delegates to this conference. This time there are five.”

Gareth, who had not been to a Stop the War event before, said,
“I’ve come to educate myself about the issues.”

RESPECT believes in building fighting trade unions capable of fighting the system on all fronts. We want to build a labour movement that not only fights for decent pay and conditions for all working people but also takes up political issues such as war, racism and islamophobia, the defence of asylum seekers and climate change to build a new society.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Immigrant Workers - More State Harrasment

Immigration officers in late-night raid on restaurant
Nov 29 2007 by David James, South Wales Echo

NINE people were arrested by immigration officers in a late-night raid on a city restaurant.
Several police officers and staff from the new Borders Agency cordoned off the Hawaiian Restaurant, City Road, Roath Cardiff, at around 9.30pm yesterday.
Two of the men arrested are believed to have been failed asylumseekers from Albania.
A spokesman from the Immigration and Borders Agency said that officers had been acting on intelligence. He said: The agency, supported by South Wales Police, carried out an enforcement operation acting on intelligence that a number of immigration offenders would be present at the premises in Cardiff.
As of 9.30pm, two men suspected Albanian failed asylum seekers “have been arrested and taken to a police station in Cardiff forquestioning.
The restaurant did not want to comment last night.The raid happened on the same night as Immigration Minister LiamByrne visited South Wales to attend one of a series of events aimedat hearing the publics reaction to the Government's proposed immigration shake-up.
The new Borders Agency has already been separated from the HomeOffice and has carried out a series of raids on takeaways andrestaurants in South Wales. But the Government is planning to go further and introduce an Australian-style points system to control migration better in thewake of a series of scandals that revealed the lack of informationheld by the authorities about the number of migrants in Britain. Inspector Paul McCarthy of South Wales Police confirmed fourofficers had attended the raid last night and that dog handlers had been requested.

The rich are free to move to whichever country will give them the biggest tax break, but when poor people migrate they face racism, demonisation and state harrassment. Cardiff RESPECT stands shoulder-to-shoulder with immigrant workers and utterly condemns the actions of the border agency, we say: "One Race - The Human Race!".

Big business asks no questions when it comes to the source of their profits. So we, in Cardiff RESPECT, make no distinction between native-born and other workers, living in Wales, when it comes to fighting for rights, or to winning support for a socialist future. We see ourselves as the representatives and organisers of that section of the international working class living and working in Wales. We only recognise ‘illegal’ worker status in order to combat it. The fight to unite our class internationally, and to oppose all attempts to divide us, is as important today, as past heroic struggles to free and abolish slavery, to liberate women and to enforce workers’ rights. Indeed, the fight, to prevent the imposition of outlaw status on millions of workers, shows us that all three of these great campaigns still need to be re-fought.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Sustainable Council Housing

Glyn Robbins is the former Chair of Tower Hamlets RESPECT, and a member of Unite, the largest manufacturing union in Britain, and a supporter of Defend Council Housing. This article is a contribution to the discussion at the coming Trade Union Conference on Climate Change, to be held at the University of London on February 9, 2008. For more information on the Conference, email

Tower Hamlets RESPECT won massive support from it's grassroots campaigns in defence of council housing, they organised huge meetings on council estates that saw estate after estate reject privatisation. In South Wales, RESPECT played a key role in the Swansea DCH campaign that led to two-thirds of tenants rejecting stock transfer. The Chair of the campaign went on to stand as a RESPECT candidate to continue the fightto defend public services.

The government says it wants to see 240,000 new homes built a year and that by 2016 all of them must be ‘zero carbon.’ Both of these targets are very ambitious and raise numerous serious questions about existing housing policy. The fundamental problem is that, as in many other areas, New Labour believes the private sector has all the answers, when in fact, it's a large part of the problem.

To embark on a discussion about the environment is to run the risk of being overwhelmed by the scale of the problems and this can undermine our sense that we can do anything about them. Meanwhile, environmentalism has spawned an industry of agencies and quangos, with a lexicon of jargon. It’s important that the trade union movement both demystifies and convinces rank and file members that we can change the situation, which is why the conference on the 9th February is so welcome and important.

While there are still a few people in denial, the scientific argument on climate change is now closed. Global industrialisation and consumerism are causing enormous damage to our planet and the consequences are literally disastrous. As ever, it’s the poor who suffer first and most, as graphically illustrated by the 2004 Tsunami, hurricane Katrina and the recent cyclone in Bangladesh. There are more to come. The cause of climate change is global warming which is the result of greenhouse gases that are produced by our industrial processes which depend on burning fossil fuel (gas, coal and oil). Reluctantly and belatedly, all governments now acknowledge the problem and are committed to various targets for reducing carbon emissions. Prime Minister Brown has said that he wants to cut UK emissions by 80% by 2050. The target of zero carbon homes is part of this.

The homes we live in – or rather the way we live in them – are responsible for 25% of UK carbon emissions. Improving design and construction can certainly play a part in reducing this, for example better insulation and windows can substantially reduce energy used on heating. In Germany there are thousands of homes that are so energy efficient they can reduce heating costs by 90%. Less heating means less burning of fossil fuels – and lower bills, particularly important for our poor and elderly. Using solar panels can heat water for almost nothing after the initial outlay, while forms of combined heat and power (CHP) can produce cheaper energy and cut emissions by up to 30%. Recycling water could cut consumption dramatically.

Perhaps you are beginning to see part of the problem. Re-read the paragraph above and imagine that you are a fat-cat director of one of the privatized utility companies!

Technology can make a real difference, but it’s only part of the answer. David Cameron with his wind turbine on his roof is not going to get us to zero carbon homes.

I regularly attend gatherings of the house building industry – and I include housing associations as part of that industry. If government policy doesn’t change, it’s these private companies who are charged with the responsibility of building sustainable homes. They’re not going to do it.

Estimates vary, but some say that the cost of building a ‘zero carbon’ home adds up to 30% on building costs. Again, assuming that policy does not change, the expectation is that most new homes will be for private sale. Even in a buoyant housing market, a 30% price increase is not something that developers will want to pass on to their customers – much less in a struggling market we are now seeing the first signs of. Private developers are also conservative, in more ways than one! They often have a very fixed view about what a house should look like. Go round most new developments and you’ll know what I mean. Developers worry that any deviation will hit their profits and they certainly don’t want to invest in the renewable energy technology that are crucial to meeting the government’s 2016 target.

The house building industry is also wedded to a concept of individualism. Having a mortgage is the ultimate expression of this and is strongly reinforced by the government’s obsession with increasing home ownership. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with buying your own home, but we need to think about the way it impacts on our society and environment.

Take the washing machine as an example. It has become a foregone assumption that all new homes will have one (and not necessarily one of the more energy efficient models). No developer or housing association would dream of not providing for one, even in homes where space is of a premium. In flats, a dryer may also be provided, rather than communal drying space. Our use of washing machines, dryers and dish washers create five million tones of carbon a year, at a cost of £800 million. We need to add to that the environmental cost of producing millions of new appliances every year, many of which also cause serious environmental problems when they are disposed of.

There is an alternative – the launderette! Many council estates were built with on-site launderettes and drying rooms. Admittedly, this was in a time when owning your own washing machine was not an expectation and along with the rest of council housing, these facilities have suffered from neglect and under-investment. But the idea is sound and it’s the type of thing we need to urgently revisit if we are serious about low carbon homes. With improved technology and especially if linked to a CHP, communal launderettes could make real savings on emissions and bills, but they could also serve another important function, by restoring part of our ever diminishing public realm.

We here so much from government about ‘community cohesion’ and yet we live in a society where individualism and private ownership is deeply enshrined. The aspiration of private home ownership is also directly linked to our patterns of consumption. Dixons and Currys don’t want to see a revival of the launderette, just as General Motors don’t want us to reduce our use of petrol.

To meet the 2016 zero carbon homes target will require a radical rethink of housing policy, but it is one that government must make for a number of other reasons. As repeated Labour Party conferences and all the big trade unions say, we must start building council housing again. The most obvious and pressing reason for doing this is that there is a critical shortage of genuinely affordable housing, but we should also see a restoration of municipally owned and democratically controlled housing as a vital step in helping our environment.

We need our house builders to be properly accountable, to us, not their shareholders or Boards. As well as affordable rents and security of tenure, we need homes that people can afford to run and heat. In fact, a lot of our council housing stock is already far more energy efficient than the alternatives and has far more potential to benefit form the new technologies than the individual suburban semi, but it will take proper, public investment.

But as well as the physical improvements, we need to foster a more communal approach to how we live. Tower Hamlets, where I live, has the poorest recycling record in the UK. It also has one of the most disadvantaged and poorly housed populations.

These things are connected. We need homes where people feel a greater and more genuine sense of community and can see the point of taking care of our environment.

Expecting the private sector to do any of this is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Cardiff RESPECT will be supporting the UK Climate Change March to the US embassy in London on Saturday 8 December. Coaches will be going from Cardiff, Newport and Caerphilly. For more info. contact:

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Northern Rock - Government: Money for Banks, Not for Homes

The private troubles of Northern Rock are fast becoming a public scandal. With no democratic debate in parliament, the government has committed over £25 billion of our money to bailing out the failed company. With the hard earned savings and jobs of thousands of workers at stake, there is no doubt that the government should intervene, but how?

The crisis is a direct consequence of some of the most grotesque features of New Labour and its conversion to global neo-liberalism. Northern Rock is in trouble because it was gambling in the international casino economy so beloved by Gordon Brown. In particular, it hoped to profit from the unscrupulous selling of the "sub-prime" mortgages that have led to the collapse of the US housing market. The resulting panic has seen huge losses for banks around the world and now poses a serious threat to the UK economy

When people place a bet on a horse, it's on the understanding that they will lose their money if the horse doesn't win. That's not how the rules work for big business. Now that the Northern Rock's gambling addiction has been exposed, it wants to use public money to cover its losses and Chancellor Darling has fallen over himself to oblige. BBC sources say that he has underwritten Northern Rock for up to five years, with little or no guarantee that the public will get its money back.

There is another way. Instead of flogging a dead horse, the government could use this opportunity to address the failure of its housing policy. The Northern Rock should be nationalized and become the nations housing bank. The value of its existing mortgages could be added to its other assets, along with the public money it has received.

In future, the bank could be used as the publicly-owned vehicle for investing in housing, particularly the new-build council housing we so desperately need. It could also provide mortgages for the many so called "low cost" housing products that are currently earning fortunes for housing associations and private lenders, with all proceeds to be ploughed back into a public housing investment programme.

If the government can find billions to prop up Northern Rock, it can also do it to invest in genuinely affordable housing.

RESPECT is proud to have been at the heart of the struggle to defend council housing in Wales. In Swansea, Paul Lynch, Chair of Swansea Defend Council Housing led a grassroots campaign of working class people on his estate that led to two-thirds of council tenants voting AGAINST the multi-million pound campaign by the LibDem council to sell off council housing.
We believe that this kind of political organising at the grassroots is the ONLY way to beatback the neoliberal offensive against working people. Paul went on to stand as a RESPECT candidate in the Assembly elections to fight against privatisation and war, and help build a grassroots socialist alternative to the 4 major parties in Wales, a different kind of politics that empowers ordinary working people to take control of their lives and futures.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

2007 - Year of Climate Catastrophe

Climate change is not a danger, it’s a reality. Its effects are hitting the poor now, and the rich and powerful are making things worse. Whether it’s war, earthquake or climate change, the poor pay the price. Phil Hearse writes:

For the small hard-core climate change deniers, no amount of evidence will make much difference. But there is evidence aplenty that in 2007 environmental damage has been accumulating because of global warming, and doing major damage to communities, nations and continents. As ever, it has been the poor who have been the most vulnerable, and who have lost most in terms of lives, possessions and livelihoods; in most places it is women and children who bear the brunt.

Most of all, 2007 has been the year of the flood. But is has also been the year of the forest fire on several continents, most notably in Greece and the United States. Climate change experts have long warned that global warming could have devastating consequences:

* More than a billion people may face freshwater shortages by 2050, especially in Asia, where rising living standards for the middle class will lead to increased water demand.
* Millions more will be threatened by floods due to rising sea levels, with island inhabitants and populations in large river-delta regions in Asia most at risk. Dry areas may become drier, with crop yields dropping by as much as 50 percent in sub-tropical regions by 2020.
* Higher rates of climate-related illness, including malnutrition, malaria, dengue fever, and heatstroke could take effect.

Mega floods

Increased rainfall in many area (although not all) is one of the obvious consequences of global warming. This year we’ve seen:

* Two waves of massive flooding in China in June and September-October in the centre and south of the country that have killed more than 1000 people.
* Connected with the same storms over southern China, Vietnam suffered widespread flooding in October and November which by the time this was written (early November) had killed more than 120 people.
* The worst floods in living memory in Central Africa, stretching from coast to coast, devastating crops and drowning hundreds.
* Unprecedented flooding in north and central England in June.
* What the Mexican president called the "greatest natural disaster of the country’s history" as the state of Tabasco was submerged for the second time in a decade, leaving dozens dead and making 100,000 homeless.
* Hundreds died in India in several waves of flooding from Mumbai, where 500 dies, to Bihar where a similar trail of devastation occurred.
* Several waves of flooding in the south east of Australia that wrecked the wine crop in many areas.

Much of this catastrophe has hardly been reported in the Western media; the fire risk to homes of Malibu celebs is of course of much more interest to the right-wing media than millions of workers and peasants in Africa or Asia!


Twenty-two African countries are experiencing their worst wet seasons in decades, and experts say that global warming is to blame. Devastating rains and flash floods have affected 1.5 million people across the continent, killing at least 300 since early summer.

West Africa has seen its most severe floods in years, as torrents swamped the Democratic Republic of the Congo's capital of Kinshasa in late October, killing 30 people in less than 24 hours. In northern Ghana, more than 300,000 people have been uprooted by devastating downpours.

In East Africa, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands have been displaced and scores killed in Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

As the rains continue, African meteorologists are warning that these events may be fulfilling predictions that the continent will suffer some of the worst effects of global warming. "Africa will be the hardest hit by climate change," said Grace Akumu, director of the Kenya-based nonprofit Climate Network Africa. "This is happening even faster than expected."


The China news agency says more than 1300 people have died in China this summer as a result of flooding. Another 332 missing; crops on at least 15.43 million hectares of farmland have been destroyed and 1.22 million houses ruined.

Direct economic losses were estimated to have amounted to 155.8 billion yuan (US$19.3 billion), according Vice-Minister of Water Resources E Jingping . The middle and downstream of Xijiang River in the Pearl River basin suffered a disastrous flood, and Hunan and Heilongjiang were hit by serious mountain torrents, mud-rock flows and landslides.

The hardest-hit areas include the provinces of Fujian, Anhui, Zhejiang and Hainan in southern and eastern China, which have also been plagued by seven typhoons and cyclones that claimed 221 lives.

However, continued heavy rainfall during the National Day holiday has caused the biggest flood in a decade along the lower reaches of the Weihe River and the middle reaches of the Hanjiang River in Shaanxi and Hubei provinces.

Sections of the rivers running through Shaanxi in northwest China overflowed, forcing 359,000 people to be evacuated. More than 4.6 million people in 61 counties were affected by floods and mud slides, which ruined 79,800 hectares of crops and destroyed 39,200 houses.

India and Bangladesh

Floods in the monsoon season are normal in the sub-continent, but this year have been particularly severe, with hundreds killed in Bihar and Mumbai. In Bangladesh two-thirds of the country was submerged and 164 people died in flooding this year. The monsoon rain is getting heavier because of warming oceans, but the human impact on the poor is made worse by poverty, the caste system and state corruption and indifference.

In Bihar more than 2 million people were forced out of their homes and overwhelmingly it was women who had to take the responsibility for finding food, firewood and shelter for themselves and their children. A high proportion of the worst affected were Dalits – so-called ‘untouchables’.

According to the Dalit campaign for Human Rights, relief was least likely to reach the low-caste villagers: "The relative neglect of low-caste villagers was a reflection of how, even at a moment of shared hardship, the rules of caste dictate how Indian society operates, he added. The culture of discrimination which runs through Indian society intensifies in times of crisis."

Aid distribution is often done in town centers, where well-off, upper-caste groups are more likely to live. Those who are geographically marginalized in low-lying, remote villages, far from the national highways, find that supplies dwindle by the time they arrive in town, if they are able to make the journey.

A heart rending account of the misery suffered by in Bihar State came last week with the story of an upper-caste police officer accused of drowning two lower-caste girls in the river after they stole firewood from his orchard.

Dry tinder has become a precious commodity in Bihar, vital to survival in the damp post-flood period. According to a villager who complained to the police, when the police officer found Chandani Kumari, 6, and Kamali Kumari, 13, taking wood from his property, he threw them into a fast-moving river. Neither of the girls could swim.

The officer was suspended and a compensation payment of 100,000 rupees, or $2,400, was given to the girls' parents S.L. Das, the local police superintendent, said, adding that he believed the girls were chased, not thrown, into the river.

In Bangladesh flooding relief put big pressure of the national budget. The World Bank has insisted that to improve national finances the government must put up the price of heating fuel – and thereby deal a cruel blow to the vast majority of poor families who depend on it for heating and cooking.

The Bihar experience shows how wrong flood-control strategies, unscrupulous politicians, unresponsive bureaucracy and corruption have left thousands displaced and economically ruined. Since Independence, successive Bihar governments have sold embankments as an answer to floods, despite warnings that these earthen structures only exacerbate the problem.

The reason behind this pro-embankment policy is easy to understand: it helps perpetuate the well-oiled politician-technocrat-contractor nexus. Cuts and kickbacks are the order of the day, as politicians get a rake off from the construction company friends, who receive large amounts of aid money for rebuilding the embankment levees, which again make the problem worse.


In 1998 the Mexican state of Tabasco was inundated and in late October this year it happened again. The worsening of tropical storms in Central America and the Caribbean is the direct result of sea warming in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition 16 rivers overran their banks in the rebel state of Chiapas. The effects of this flooding are still ongoing as this article is written. According to the BBC (4 November):

"Beyond Mexico's borders the effects of the tropical depression have been felt in other Central American states. Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador have already suffered from three weeks of heavy downpours."

In total more than 50 people have been killed and 100,000 have been forced to evacuate. Some large areas are facing epidemics and food shortages. Millions of dollars worth of crops across the region have been ruined and outbreaks of malaria, cholera and dengue fever have been reported in some of the worst hit areas The floods completely wiped out crops in the region, and a farm association estimated losses at 480 million dollars.

Health officials have meanwhile started to fret about looming health risks from open sewage and the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Dengue, cholera and diarrhea outbreaks now are very real possibilities.

What has really animated the state and national government is that the hungry people of Villhermosa, capital of Tabasco have started to loot supermarkets to get food. Thousands of desperate and hungry people cannot be allowed to breach property laws for the mere purpose of getting something to eat!


Many parts of the Greek countryside burnt with savage ferocity this summer as temperatures reached 460 C, and more than 60 people were killed in cut-off villages. Even if some of these fires were started by arsonists, they widespread effect can only be explained by global warming.

The ecology of Greece is changing permanently. An arid country is threatened with becoming a desert if Mediterranean countries continue to experience routine temperatures above 40o in the summer.

Brush fires are normal events in California, part of the natural cycle, but events like this year’s fires are not. According to American writer Mike Davis:

"The Los Angeles Times had an article that said climate change wasn’t a factor in the fires. This is probably balderdash. Everything that’s happening, including the dramatic number of mega-fires in the rest of the West, accords with the simulations generated in the climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Not only are extreme events becoming more common, but it’s possible that the base climate of the Southwest and most of the rest of the West is itself changing."

Davis also points out how an alliance of Republican politicians and property developers have been responsible for continued house building in the fire-prone backlands, despite repeated warnings about fire dangers. He also showed how the media had highlighted the danger to the houses of celebrities like John Travolta and Sting, rather than the much worse plight of poor people in areas like San Diego.

Capitalism Collides with Nature

There have always been floods and forest fires. But the intensity and widespread nature of these events is vivid evidence of the impact of climate change. No one can now possibly believe that climate change is a victimless crime; thousands of people are dying each year from its effects, many thousands more are being made ill, being made eco-refugees or losing their livelihoods.

Each of the floods and fires referred to above has its own unique causes. But behind each one of them is increasing global temperatures, and in particular rising sea temperatures. It’s rising sea temperatures off West Africa which start many of the tropical storms that end up as hurricanes in the Bay of Mexico; it’s the warming of the same seas that triggered the floods in central Africa this year. Sea warming is worsening the monsoons affecting the sub-continent and South East Asia.

In each case it’s the poor, living in flimsy houses in marginal areas near dangerous dams, levees or mountainsides that are the victims of the flash floods and the mudslides. In each case it’s the poor who are the victims when disaster relief money is siphoned off by the rich and corrupt officials. And it’s the poor who have no back-up resources when their fields and crops are damaged, their homes are destroyed.

Climate change is not a danger, it’s a reality. Its effects are hitting the poor now, and the rich and powerful are making things worse. Whether it’s war, earthquake or climate change, the poor pay the price.

Capitalist productivism, the incessant production of more and more useless commodities, is responsible for this crisis. Solving the crisis means ending the system.

Cardiff RESPECT will be supporting the global day of action on Climate Change on December 8th and joining people demonstrating at the American Embassy in London. For transport from Cardiff email:

Monday, 12 November 2007

Support Constance Nzenu's Anti-Deportation Campaign

The rich are allowed to move to which ever country will give them the biggest tax break but poor and working class people face demonisation and harrassment. Cardiff RESPECT says: No deportations!

Constance arrived in the UK in April 2005. Her asylum claim has been rejected and she is now facing imminent removal to Cameroon, the country from which she fled.

Constance left Cameroon because she was being forced into an arranged marriage that she did not want to engage in. Constance was living a happy life in Cameroon; she had completed her second degree in Law and was about to enroll for her PhD until the direction of her life was taken out of her hands.

Her father had made an arrangement with his friend for Constance to marry him in exchange for a large amount of money. Constance was not consulted in this matter. The man she was being forced to marry was from a different tribe. He is a Muslim. Constance is a Christian. She would be his third wife.

The condition on which Constance was to enter into this marriage was that she would undergo Female Genital Mutilation, which is widespread among Muslim communities in Cameroon.

Nationally, the United Nations estimates that about 20 percent of women in Cameroon are victims of circumcision, which can be carried out at any stage: at birth, during early childhood, in the course of adolescence, just before marriage or after the birth of the first child.

USA Report on Human Rights Practices:

Cameroon 2006

“Cameroon law does not prohibit female genital mutilation (FGM), Internal migration contributed to the spread of FGM to different parts of the country. The majority of FGM procedures were clitorectomies. The severest form of FGM, infibulation, was performed in the Kajifu region of the Southwest Province. FGM usually was practiced on infants and preadolescent girls. Public health centers in areas where FGM is frequently practiced counseled women about the harmful consequences of FGM; however, the government did not prosecute any persons charged with performing FGM. The Association of Women Against Violence continued to conduct a program in Maroua to assist victims of FGM and their families and to educate local populations. During the year breast ironing emerged as another form of violence against women, practiced in an effort to protect prematurely well-developed young girls from predatory older men. NGOs were leading public awareness campaigns to combat this practice.”

Constance refused to enter into this marriage and the matter was taken to court by the ‘fiancé.’ Constance similarly refused to go to the court hearing because she knew, from her education in Law in Cameroon, that the outcome of the case would be in the man’s favour.

Constance then left her family where she had been living, a search warrant was issued and the police became involved. Her Father also put an announcement out in a national newspaper offering a reward for anyone who returned her to the family because if the marriage didn’t go ahead they would owe the ‘fiancé’ the dowry money and be shamed within the community.

If Constance is forced to return to Cameroon she faces an uncertain and unhappy future: there will be recriminations from the police, the court, the ‘fiancé’ and her family, all because she refused to engage in the arranged marriage and the consequences of this marriage.

Constance would like to be free of persecution in Wales where she now lives; allowed to remain in Britain and become a European citizen in order to be able to work her way up in life and bring up her British born child in a Human Rights friendly environment.

‘Friends of Constance and Andrea’ are now campaigning to keep them in Cardiff.

Constance Nzeneu is an asset to the Cardiff community where she has lived for 2 years and three months. Her son Andreas was born here. Andreas’s father is German. He works in between Germany and the UK, and they have an ongoing relationship.

In the years she has lived in Cardiff, Constance has actively participated in the community and has made many friends here. She is an active member of the Heath Evangelical Church and Refugee Voice Wales and she has volunteered for Displaced People In Action and Black African Women Stepping Out. All these organisations have valued her contribution highly.

For more information about how you can help Constance, see here

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Will It Take A Ban On Flying To Stop Climate Change

Stopping global warming means cutting air travel. As part of the debate within RESPECT and the movement, Jonathan Neale looks at how this could be done without targeting the poor.

Tackling climate change means cutting carbon emissions drastically. We have to start now – that’s clear. But there’s confusion over what to do about air travel.

Half of global carbon emissions come from seven sources – heating buildings, air conditioning, cars, trucks, petroleum refineries, cement plants and steel plants.

Air travel may seem less important right now. Planes are responsible for 3 percent of carbon emissions globally and 6 percent in Britain.
But air travel puts other, more powerful and rarer greenhouse gases directly into the stratosphere. It’s the fastest growing carbon source.

It’s true that planes now use 70 percent less fuel per mile than they did 40 years ago, and further design changes are possible. But that alone won’t be enough.

One common answer starts by saying cheap flights are the problem – so tax them heavily, and fewer people will fly.

Sounds good. But then only the rich would fly. This is the problem with all green taxes.

There is always another solution that is fairer and cuts more emissions.

For instance, you can tax cars and roads heavily. Then only the rich will drive, and ordinary workers will hate environmentalists.

A better solution is to ban cars in cities and provide excellent public transport. Then you have beautiful cities where parks replace most roads.

Again, if you tax energy and make it expensive to heat houses, the poor and the elderly will freeze. And most people will hate environmentalists every time they open their bill.

But if the government gives grants to insulate every house, we can cut energy use from heating by more than half.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California is building one million solar roofs. We could build ten million in Britain.

The way to stop global warming is almost always not to cut what we have, but to do things differently. So it is with air travel. Here are some social justice solutions that will work:

First, ban all flights in Europe. But don’t make people give up their holidays. Instead have subsidised trains that prebook until they’re full, like cheap flights.

We would need new train lines. Very fast trains emit too much carbon. But ordinary 125 mph trains as we have in Britain now could go from London to Istanbul in 24 hours and to Delhi in 48.

Those trains will have to be publicly owned. Privately owned railways invest less, cut the number of trains and raise the ticket prices.

What about longer flights? One answer is to ban expensive flights, not cheap ones. Luxury transatlantic seats create four to five times as much carbon.

But much more important, much long haul travel is done by business people. There are not so many of them, but each makes many flights.

The solution is rationing. Let people have one long flight a year. But don’t let them sell that ration – they use it or lose it. The business people can teleconference.

With new railways, that means more travel, more holidays, and less carbon emissions. And if we cover the world with wind farms and solar power, we can run the railways on almost carbon free electricity.

These kinds of massive public works that create jobs and improve people’s standard of living is what will stop climate change.

Otherwise, activists lay themselves open to the right. Look what Tony Blair said about air travel.

He claimed his hands were tied because ordinary people wanted their holidays, and would never stand for airport cuts.

Blair was lying. New Labour builds new airports because the City of London wants business travellers.

Blair posed as the working people’s champion because he could smell the weakness in green taxes – they’re unfair.
We have to build a global mass movement to stop climate change. Time is short, and nothing less will work.
We can’t build that movement by asking ordinary people to sacrifice when the rich don’t.

In almost every area where we have to act on climate change, there is a choice. The conservative answer is to keep the economy the same. Then we have to cut living standards.

The radical answer is to change the way the economy is organised, so we can have both growth and fairness.

None of this means we wait for the new railways before we shut down runways.
We have to fight for both, now.

Cardiff RESPECT will be supporting the UK demonstration for action on climate change on December 6th in London. For transport from Cardiff, e-mail:

More info here

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Let Us Respect Our Mother Earth

"The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model." - Evo Morales

Nowhere is neoliberalism rejected as powerfully as on the continent of Latin America where the word "people power" really has a meaning. What is tremendously exciting about these democratic socialist movements is that some of them are putting ecology and sustainability at the heart of their revolutions

This is the text of an extraordinary letter sent by Evo Morales, President of Bolivia to the United Nations.

Sister and brother Presidents and Heads of States of the United Nations:

The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model. Whilst over 10,000 years the variation in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on the planet was approximately 10%, during the last 200 years of industrial development, carbon emissions have increased by 30%. Since 1860, Europe and North America have contributed 70% of the emissions of CO2. 2005 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years on this planet.

Different investigations have demonstrated that out of the 40,170 living species that have been studied, 16,119 are in danger of extinction. One out of eight birds could disappear forever. One out of four mammals is under threat. One out of every three reptiles could cease to exist. Eight out of ten crustaceans and three out of four insects are at risk of extinction. We are living through the sixth crisis of the extinction of living species in the history of the planet and, on this occasion, the rate of extinction is 100 times more accelerated than in geological times.

Faced with this bleak future, transnational interests are proposing to continue as before, and paint the machine green, which is to say, continue with growth and irrational consumerism and inequality, generating more and more profits, without realising that we are currently consuming in one year what the planet produces in one year and three months. Faced with this reality, the solution can not be an environmental make over.

I read in the World Bank report that in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change we need to end subsidies on hydrocarbons, put a price on water and promote private investment in the clean energy sector. Once again they want to apply market recipes and privatisation in order to carry out business as usual, and with it, the same illnesses that these policies produce. The same occurs in the case of biofuels, given that to produce one litre of ethanol you require 12 litres of water. In the same way, to process one ton of agrifuels you need, on average, one hectare of land.

Faced with this situation, we – the indigenous peoples and humble and honest inhabitants of this planet – believe that the time has come to put a stop to this, in order to rediscover our roots, with respect for Mother Earth; with the Pachamama as we call it in the Andes. Today, the indigenous peoples of Latin America and the world have been called upon by history to convert ourselves into the vanguard of the struggle to defend nature and life.

I am convinced that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently approved after so many years of struggle, needs to pass from paper to reality so that our knowledge and our participation can help to construct a new future of hope for all. Who else but the indigenous people, can point out the path for humanity in order to preserve nature, natural resources and the territories that we have inhabited from ancient times.

We need a profound change of direction, at the world wide level, so as to stop being the condemned of the earth. The countries of the north need to reduce their carbon emissions by between 60% and 80% if we want to avoid a temperature rise of more than 2º in what is left of this century, which would provoke global warming of catastrophic proportions for life and nature.

We need to create a World Environment Organisation which is binding, and which can discipline the World Trade Organisation, which is propelling us towards barbarism. We can no longer continue to talk of growth in Gross National Product without taking into consideration the destruction and wastage of natural resources. We need to adopt an indicator that allows us to consider, in a combined way, the Human Development Index and the Ecological Footprint in order to measure our environmental situation.

We need to apply harsh taxes on the super concentration of wealth, and adopt effective mechanisms for its equitable redistribution. It is not possible that three families can have an income superior to the combined GDP of the 48 poorest countries. We can not talk of equity and social justice whilst this situation continues.

The United States and Europe consume, on average, 8.4 times more that the world average. It is necessary for them to reduce their level of consumption and recognise that all of us are guests on this same land; of the same Pachamama.

I know that change is not easy when an extremely powerful sector has to renounce their extraordinary profits for the planet to survive. In my own country I suffer, with my head held high, this permanent sabotage because we are ending privileges so that everyone can “Live Well” and not better than our counterparts. I know that change in the world is much more difficult than in my country, but I have absolute confidence in human beings, in their capacity to reason, to learn from mistakes, to recuperate their roots, and to change in order to forge a just, diverse, inclusive, equilibrated world in harmony with nature.

Evo Morales Ayma
President of the Republic of Bolivia
September 24, 2007

Translated by Federico Fuentes, Bolivia Rising

Monday, 8 October 2007

Know Thy Enemy

Christopher Logue

Know thy enemy:
he does not care what colour you are
provided you work for him
and yet you do!

he does not care how much you earn
provided you earn more for him
and yet you do!

he does not care who lives in the room at the top
provided he owns the building
and yet you strive!

he will let you write against him
provided you do not act against him
and yet you write!

he sings the praises of humanity
but knows machines cost more than men.
Bargain with him, he laughs,
and beats you at it;
challenge him, and he kills.
Sooner than loose the things he owns
he will destroy the world.

But as you hasten to be free
And build your commonwealth
Do not forget the enemy
Who lies within yourself.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

The Real Struggle Takes Place On The Streets of Burma

Revolt from below, not intervention from the West, is the key to overthrowing Burma's military junta, writes Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The mainstream media concentrates on the pronouncements of foreign governments and the supposed role of the United Nations in stopping the bloodshed perpetrated by the Burmese military junta.

But the real struggle is on the streets and in the cities across Burma. The idea that the Chinese government, responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre, will somehow restrain the Burmese ­military is laughable.

As for the West, it has a long history of supporting military juntas in South East Asia and never lifted a finger to stop massacres in Indonesia or the Philippines.

In fact the recent demonstrations in Burma arise out of a realisation by the country's democracy activists that they cannot rely on Western powers or anyone else to bring about a change – they have to act themselves.

The last great uprising in Burma was the so called 8888 movement that started on 8 August 1988. It was initiated by student protests over economic issues but soon developed into demands for democracy (see below).

For years after the defeat of that uprising, demoralised activists had hoped the US would pressurise the Burmese junta into releasing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and negotiating a road map to democracy.

But lessons have since been learnt. Earlier this year a loose network of activists decided to start open protests in the form of "prayer marches" at temples. This was followed by the large demonstrations of monks after fuel price rises of 500 percent.

Thousands of ordinary people gained confidence and joined the monks' protests. Hundreds of politicised young men have become monks in recent years, partly due to the fact that the junta closed down or restricted entry to colleges and universities.

The temples were safer places for people to gather and talk, much like the mosques during Iran's 1979 revolution or the Catholic church in Communist Poland before the uprising there.

The pro-democracy movement today has more experience than in 1988. Twenty years ago it was prepared to allow Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to lead the movement.

Today there are more debates about the way forward. While everyone agrees that Suu Kyi and all political prisoners should be freed immediately, the radicals are wary of leaving the leadership of the movement in the hands of the NLD.

While many of the current activists trace their roots back to 1988, thousands of young people on the protests are too young to have taken part back then. This means that a whole new generation of people have become radicalised.

There are signs that they are prepared to resist the army with great courage and sacrifices. And democracy can only be achieved by overthrowing the junta.

This will involve fighting back – and also winning over ordinary soldiers to the side of the people.

The movement needs to deal with the long running ethnic conflict in Burma. Non-Burmese make up more than half the population and have never been happy with a unified state.

Many groups have been in a state of constant armed struggle against the central government since independence in 1948.

It is encouraging to see that the Karen National Union, one of the key national minority groups, has come out very clearly on the side of the pro-democracy movement, urging Burmese soldiers to turn their guns on their officers.

The democracy movement should respond to this act of solidarity by backing self-determination for Burma's ethnic minorities.

In the past Burma's independence leaders were less than enthusiastic about granting autonomy to different ethnic groups. Suu Kyi herself has been unclear on this issue and is not fully trusted by non-Burmese.

Burma's working class will also play a crucial role. We know very little about how well organised workers in Burma are – obviously there are no open trade unions – but in 1988 they managed to pull off a general strike.

The country has significant concentrations of workers in textiles and oil. There are also large concentrations of Burmese workers just over the border in towns like Mae Sot in Thailand. These refugee workers are organised and have links to workers inside Burma.

It is possible for a mass movement to take on a repressive military dictatorship and win – it happened in the Philippines against Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, in Thailand against General Suchinda Kraprayoon in May 1992 and in Indonesia against President Suharto in 1998.

The movement can use tactics such as strikes, cat-and-mouse demonstrations, or fraternising with lower ranking soldiers to encourage them to break from their officers. These are all dangerous – but ultimately only the Burmese people have the power to bring down the regime.

The defeated revolt of 1988

On the morning of 8 August 1988 a general strike started in the Rangoon docks and spread to government offices across the city.

All sections of society, including monks, marched to demand the end to military rule.

Despite the brutality of the regime – which opened fire on demonstrators killing around 3,000 of them – the movement showed signs of winning. Ne Win, the old military dictator, was forced to resign and the junta promised elections.

But instead of pushing forward with the struggle and toppling the military completely, the movement was deflated. Aung San Suu Kyi told demonstrators to disperse, arguing that they should trust the army and not push it too far.

The energies of the democracy movement were channelled into electoral politics. In 1990 Suu Kyi's NLD party won 392 seats out of a total 485, but the junta refused to accept the result.

A new dictatorship was installed and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest – but the Burmese movement had already been weakened and could not intervene to help.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Our Bus Service is not for Sale!

“While I understand a minority shareholding would be involved, I believe this would be the thin edge of the wedge and will open the door to full privatisation of Cardiff Bus which will gradually reduce the service to customers.

Any private company would expect a return of at least 15 per cent on turnover.

The only way that can be met is through increased fares and/or a large reduction in marginal services which Cardiff Bus operates as a sort of dividend for the owners, the people of Cardiff: This looks like a fire sale to deal with a short-term financial position."
- Steve Pantak, Chairman of Cardiff Bus

The corporate take-over of Cardiff continues unabated. The neo-Liberal democrats cuts and privatisation agenda reveals that they are "yellow Tories". First school cuts, then the Library cuts, now a brutal attempt at privatising the local bus network.

Cardiff Council is currently talking about selling off a 40% slice of the Cardiff Bus Company - this could pave the way for total privatisation of one of the few remaining Bus services in the country still in public ownership under the municipal control of local government.

A Bus service run for profit could see price rises and vital services cut.

RESPECT defends the idea that local bus services should be publicly owned and democratically accountable to local government. This is the only basis on which an integrated, low carbon transport network can be built. We campaign for free or cheap public transport available to all workers as an alternative to car-mageddon.

The fruits of bus privatisation have already been seen across the UK. In the early 80s when the Tories privatised and derregulated public transport, they said it would increase competition, drive down prices and the travelling public would benefit. Instead workers have faced increased prices, fewer services, a lack of accountability, and incessant cuts and timetable changes.

The long-term fruits of privatisation and de-regulation have been private bus monopolies seizing control of the market throughout the country by driving out smaller operators.

In order to satisfy private operators’ endless thirst for increased profits, they have to constantly cut or remove the less profitable services. These are often the routes that provide a social service, linking isolated local communities and providing a lifeline for many people, especially the elderly.

For corporations run for profit this is of no concern, often declining passenger numbers are then used as an excuse for further rounds of cuts. The knock-on effects are considerable with many vulnerable people left isolated in their communities.

But there is another fundamental issue. When bus services are in public ownership it is much easier to challenge cuts in services, price rises, and provision, but once they are privatised there is no longer consultation or accountability. The bottom line is that the Bus Companies are free to do whatever they want with only their profit margins to worry about.

RESPECT campaigns for the extension of democracy in our society. Decisions on the provision and implementation of local services such as public transport must be made by people accountable to the communities they represent. Therefore we will be building a mass campaign to defend our public services:

Our Bus Service is Not For Sale

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Heathrow Climate Camp 2007

Report by Joe Redmond, Cardiff RESPECT member (Adamsdown Branch) and Unison Workplace Environmental Representative.

Contrary to press scare stories about environmental extremists threatening to cause mass disruption to Europe’s busiest airport on a weekend in August, the 1,500 people deposited on an overgrown “sports field” adjacent to Heathrow’s northern runway had united to draw attention to government’s continued hypocrisy on the issues surrounding climate change and it’s reluctance to impose restrictions on the aviation industry.

While mainstream politicians pay lip service to tackling CO2 emissions, people from all walks of life, including myself, arrived at the climate camp to register their disgust, to meet with like-minded individuals and talk with local people whose lifelong homes were to be destroyed by the planned third runway that would double the amount of already suffocating air traffic overhead.

Police presence was ridiculously overwhelming; officers outnumbered climate campers two to one and BAA – the company which owns and runs Heathrow – roped in extra security staff, fearful of the day of mass protest planned for Sunday 21st August.

Following the embarrassing failure of BAA to secure a wide-ranging injunction to stop the camp taking place, police were authorised to invoke terror laws to stop and search, detain without charge and film campers from the ground and by helicopter above.

If the aim was to discredit eco-protestors as a bunch of cranks and anarchists it was spectacularly unsuccessful, with mainstream media giving the event acres of coverage denied to much larger recent protests such as the 100,000 strong London march against renewing the Trident nuclear “defence” system. Discussions on the issues surrounding climate change were once again on the front page of national newspapers as well as being the lead story on evening news bulletins.

Villagers from nearby Sipson, which would be levelled to make room for the new runway, visited the camp throughout the week to show their appreciation and support bringing fresh local produce, homemade samosas and flasks of coffee.

Local residents joined men, women and children from the camp on a march towards Harmondsworth, which will also be decimated by Heathrow’s planned expansion until we were circled by a ring of police in riot vans determined not to let us reach our destination – a rally in a garden centre at which local MP John McDonnell was due to speak. Armed with drums, guitars and an accordion we kept our spirits up by singing for over an hour.

A group of activists set up camp overnight on the tarmac outside BAA’s offices and Monday morning workers were told to go home by bosses who were unable to get through the blockade. Recruiters scoured the main camp in the early hours of the morning for reinforcements and some of those who had been woken up by the first roar of jet engines at 5a.m. were compelled to join in.

The camp communications tent offered text message updates on the movement of police and protesters, working overtime to inform us that two teenage girls had climbed to the roof of BAA’s offices and unfurled a banner saying “Make Planes History”, or that a group of people had chained themselves to the cargo terminal used for holding foods imported by UK supermarkets. Hilariously, one message told how a riderless police horse had been sighted circling a field next to the camp, pursued breathlessly by a horseless police officer.

During the week leading up to the day of action such luminaries as Mark Lynas and George Monbiot delivered lectures and workshops on the worsening climate crisis and the need to build a society less reliant on the unstable petrocarbon-economy. Comedian Rob Newman, who performed on Saturday evening, deemed the event “an historic occasion” and the rapturous applause gained by his comments showed we were determined to take our experiences away and continue to build local campaigns and make our voices heard.

Cardiff RESPECT calls for

* Unilateral reduction of CO2 emissions in the UK of 90% by 2030, with similar reductions in other developed countries. We demand that the Welsh Assembly set binding annual targets to cut emissions. We call for an international treaty that goes way beyond Kyoto to cap global carbon emissions.

* International rationing of air-travel. Halt airport expansion, restrict binge flying. Nationalise the airlines. We oppose the expansion of Cardiff Airport and opening of an Anglesey/Cardiff air-route. End the £9 billion tax break to the aviation industry and spend the money on more sustainable forms of public transport.

* Stop car-mageddon: Free, or cheap, integrated publicly owned transport systems. End New Labour's road building programme and spend the £30 billion on public transport. Nationalisation of rail, road freight and bus companies.

* Cancel all third-world debt. There is no point calling on impoverished countries to tackle climate change if they are saddled with debt.

* Massive investment in renewable energy. Keep Wales nuclear free. We oppose the building of new nuclear power plants in Wales supported by the leader's of both New Labour and Plaid Cymru.
* Scrap weapons of mass destruction and use the resources for sustainable development and renewable energy.

*End the productivist throwaway society: production for use not profit.

* Sustainable town planning: redesigned cities to eliminate unnecessary journeys and conserve energy.

* All new buildings to be zero-carbon; provide insulation, energy conservation etc. to all homes to make them energy efficient and therefore lower fuel bills for working class people. We call for sustanable council housing in Wales

.* Localised food production and opposition to "Supermarket Britain".

* No GM crops for food or fuel.

* No to incinerators. High quality facilities to maximise recycling. The aim should be the full recycling of waste. We oppose the LibDems plans for a Cardiff incinerator. In Neath, Respect activists launched the Crymlyn Burrows Stop the Incinerator Campaign

.* End the destruction of the rainforests.

* Defend the rights of climate change refugees and migrants. Protect those hit by drought, desertification, floods, crop failure and extreme weather conditions.

* Renationalise water and protect water reserves. End the pollution of the rivers and water ways.

Friday, 24 August 2007

After the Flood

Last week, thousands of flood victims joined a march called by Tewksbury Council. The government has now provided a £6.2 million recovery package for England.
In Wales, the New Labour/Plaid coalition has yet to provide any help for the forgotten Welsh flood victms.

Adam Johannes from Roath RESPECT argues that climate change activists and socialists in Wales need to fight for the Assembly government to intervene as part of the struggle for a very different kind of society.

Nye Bevan famously said that "socialism is the language of priorities". If this is the case, then the New Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition that mis-run the Welsh Assembly are very far from socialism.

In the Vale of Glamorgan, £16 billion is being spent - not on schools, hospitals, socially useful jobs, or to eliminate child poverty - but rather to oil the wheels of the British war machine.

The priorities of the two ruling parties in Wales are clear: Billions can be found to set up a Military Academy to train the latest recruits to the "war on terror", but not a penny for a flood hit community in the same area: At home and abroad, our rulers wage war on the poor.

We shouldn't be surprised. It's no secret that Rhodri Morgan and George W Bush are the only world leaders that still refuse to take climate change seriously.

Only a few months ago, the First Minister of Wales even suggested that climate change could boost tourism! He rabidly opposes the Assembly setting binding targets to cut carbon emissions and has failed to visit communities in Wales hit by flooding. Perhaps, Mr Morgan should go to Barry and tell the people who have had their homes destroyed by floods that climate change is good for tourism . . .

Climate, Class & Inequality

Climate change will result in increasingly volatile and extreme weather: Heatwaves, floods, droughts can be expected. This will effect everyone - but not equally. We have already seen that the first and worst victims will be poor and working class people.

In New Orleans, the rich whites were evacuated while the poor - black and white - were left to fend for themselves.

In August 2003, a heat wave engulfed Europe. It resulted in 15,000 deaths in France alone. Half of the people who died lived in old people's homes, few of which have air conditioning. The deaths were overwhelmingly poor and working class people.

In our own country, thousands die of hypothermia each winter: More pensioners die in the UK - the 4th richest economy in the world - than in Siberia. The reason they die is because they cannot afford to adequately heat their home. The reason they cannot afford to adequately heat their home is because Labour and the Tories have attacked pensions and dismantled the Welfare State.

No More Oil Wars!

Our pensioners suffer from fuel poverty while our government sends young working class men abroad to kill in a war for oil. In Iraq, the occupied country - a country with the second biggest oil reserves in the Middle East - ordinary people don't have enough fuel for their homes or cars. In Britain, the occupying country, pensioners die because they can't afford fuel to hear their homes. Who, then, is profiting from Iraqi oil?

The mystery is explained when we grasp that the war is about the richest 10% of our population extending their profits and power.

Is it not the same people who make British workers work the longest hours for the worst pay in the Western World who concocted this "war on terror"? Is it not the same corporations, oil companies, and vested interests that lobbied for the war on Iraq that now bribe the US government to block global action on climate change?

Floods - Who will Pay for the Damage?

It is clear that the floods were also the result of government policies of building housing on flood plains, of poor draining, of flood defences cut back because the government cares about profits not people. Yet, in many cases working people are expected to pay for the damage themselves. In Barry, some families whose houses are uninhabitable don't have house insurance.

Behind the TV images lie many untold stories of desperation, wrecked lives, and despair.

Cardiff RESPECT argues that the government must provide grants for all families effected by the floods in Wales and England to rebuild their lives, these grants should be funded by a special windfall tax on Britain's millionaires, but we also recognise that until we build a credible left wing alternative to New Labour and Plaid, we cannot force the government to do anything. So effective solidarity with the flood victims naturally leads to the necessity of creating a mass organisation in England and Wales to deliver it.

Re-nationalise the Water!

It was once assumed that public utilities like water and electricity should be publicly owned by not-for-profit bodies that were democratically accountable, but Thatcher sold our water and electricity to private corporations to make money, and Blair and Brown refused to re-nationalise them.

The pursuit of profits by the rich and powerful often means that they cut corners when it comes to health and safety. In Gloucestershire, the local water company built water treatment works on the edge of a flood plain and had inadequate flood defences.

During the flooding disaster, they announced £300 million profits with shareholders given a special payment of £575 million, yet now they are saying that water bills must be increased to pay for the damage cause by the floods!

So working class people already faced with huge costs due to their communities being destroyed face the burden of increased water charges levied by corporations making record profits!

For the Planet - Against the State

Climate change - itself the bitter fruit of an economic system based on greed not need - is taking place in a world brutally divided between the rich and poor: Capitalism seemlessly transmutes natural distaster into human catastrophe.

Climate change is not just about weather, it is about inequality, how society is organised, housing, pensions and a host of other issues.

And solving climate change is not about "green taxes" and the fake solutions offered by the mainstream parties. It is about re-nationalising the railways and cheap bus-fares to make travelling by car unnessecary. It is about increasing public health by promoting walking and cycling. It is about a massive programme of house insulation that will mean that working class people will save money from lower fuel bills. It is about healthy locally grown food rather than processed food flown from abroad. It is about jobs that are close to where you work so you don't have to commute. It is about city gardens and sustainability. It is about supporting protests like the Climate Camp and the demonstrations called by Campaign against Climate Change, it is about raising the issue of climate chaos in your work-place, community and trade union branch.

RESPECT fights for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy as a move from war towards peace, but more fundamentally we argue for a break with the neoliberal model of George Bush, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Menzies Campbell, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Rhodri Morgan. We want to build a world based on the principle of People before Profit!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Feedback from Student RESPECT

To read RESPECT's vision of what the NUS should be, see here


Monday was an unusually tame meeting but one that still marked an important moment for NUS with a near unanimous vote to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition.

Affiliation to Stop the War and support for the Communications Workers Union (CWU) was voted through less then an hour after the NEC accepted a priority campaign without any campaigning, and the most significant points need to be discussed more widely.


Over the last few years NUS has done more and more work with the coalition. Both Gemma and Veronica King have spoken at recent demonstrations and Gemma is speaking at the relaunch of Stop the War’s student work on the 8th.

Stop the War has mobilised thousands of students repeatedly in numbers that no other campaign has reached and maintained a level of visibility and influence on far less money then the NUS spends in a month. Joint work around broad slogans between the NUS and StWc can and will be of huge benefit to both organisations.

NUS will be helping with a “Troops Out” tour featuring comedian Mark Steel and ex-SAS veteran Ben Griffen that will be among the biggest meetings to take place at any university this year. This year’s campaign will be discussed at the Stop the War activist meeting on the 8th with Tony Benn.


The only attempt to derail affiliation came from Sophie Buckland of Education not for Sale (ENS), the one organisation of the “left” not to call for an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

ENS attempted to exploit Wes’ cheap demagogy about the right of Israel to “defend” itself to derail the discussion and succeeded in passing an amendment marking out NUS as on the rightwing of the coalition.

The vote on the amendment was close with many abstaining and others pressured into voting for by the emotive (and dishonest) posturing of Labour Students and ENS, and the main thrust of the motion remains an overwhelmingly positive desire to put NUS at the heart of the anti-war movement.


Wes attempted to sell the education priority campaign with the twisted logic that “it’s very easy to campaign but it’s far harder to have breakfasts and lunches with important people.”

The campaign will be formally launched on the 4th of September and loath though I am to spoil the surprise there are some things that need discussing now.

The concept of the campaign is based around two basic points:

1) We need to “keep our powder dry.” It is argued that it is unwise to run any public campaigns until 2009 because campaigning “puts students off” and furthermore that organisations like the NUS should model themselves on Amnesty International and call on our members for set piece actions every now and again (like turning on and off a tap.)

2) We can’t “pre-empt the review” by proposing what we believe in at this stage as that would stop the government listening to us. Instead we must brown nose officials and gather data to put forwards a pragmatic alternative later which will be considered as a serious option.

The fact that this is deeply flawed on many levels was raised only by the left on the NEC. The comparison between NUS and a lobby group like Amnesty is one of the most worrying aspects of the campaign. It is a marked difference from the idea of a union of students.

Our strength is based on the fact that we collectively organise students at the point where they engage with their education and the world around them.
To successfully develop that strength we need to be involving them in understanding our education system and attempting to change it. This has to be through a consistent series of activities and events to engage our members with our activists and the NUS.

It simply won’t work to expect people to suddenly engage en masse with NUS in 2009 unless we have done the hard work of building up a base.

The second point is the changing nature of universities themselves. It simply isn’t true that the “debate on HE” is actually very narrow and directed. Since New Labour’s theory of “the knowledge economy” the government has systematically accelerated the drive to subvert Universities to the interests of the neo-liberal economy.

It isn’t possible for NUS to tinker around the edges and expect a better deal for students - we need to fundamentally challenge the direction the government is moving in.

We need to be open about our principles to our members and potential supporters and politically win them to the need for a free and fair education.


Almost unanimously the executive voted to show our solidarity with the post workers strike.

Scott Cuthbertson spoke well in favour of encouraging a sense of Trade Union solidarity amongst our members. The strike may currently be suspended but the prospects of wider public sector strikes to defend public services are very much on the horizon.

Other motions included unanimous support for the BMA’s organ donation campaign and work to lower the age of consent to 16 across the board.